The Science Behind Small-Batch Bread Baking

Chef de cuisine Max Blachman-Gentile discusses The Standard's newly developed bread program

If packaged, pre-sliced bread exists on one end of the spectrum and artisanal loaves sit at the other, then The Standard‘s newly developed bread program lies further beyond the latter. Max Blachman-Gentile, the East Village outpost’s new chef de cuisine, put together an incredibly scientific, and limited, bread menu.

Working solely with naturally leavened doughs (naturally fermented ones made only with wild yeast) Blachman-Gentile hopes that anywhere between five and six loaves of each variety will be available for retail purchase during operating hours. The limited quantities are because Blachman-Gentile’s bread uses specific, locally sourced (Maine, Massachusetts, New York and Pennsylvania) ingredients and are based on experimental and learnt recipes.

Sourdough, rugbrød, malted milk, baguette, porridge and high-extraction miche fill out the menu. Though some of those varieties are common, Blachman-Gentile’s iterations are supremely fresh and undeniably irresistible. And, while a lot of the bread’s consistency and flavor can be attributed to its freshness (they’re available less than two hours after they’re baked), the careful science and sourcing lend a hand too.

After tenuring at Brooklyn‘s Tørst and making some of the city’s best bread there, Blachman-Gentile wanted to expand his vision of the perfect bread. Therefore, doing so in The Standard’s more substantial kitchen, and with the ingredients he’s always favored, came as a welcome opportunity.

“I try to use all flours from the Northeast and much higher percentages of whole grain,” he says. “There are obviously a lot of health benefits, but I just like the taste more.”

Blachman-Gentile’s bread has an umami-like quality to it. Despite their darker, more tangible crust, their insides remain moist and soft and spongey. And, they can be eaten with less regret, he explains.

“The wholegrain is certainly part of it, but—just in general—the longer fermentation time helps. All of them take two to three days,” he says. “Once you add the water to the flour, it starts breaking down starch—essentially, the starch gets eaten and turns into sugar, and then the sugar can be eaten by the yeast and the bacteria and turned into carbon dioxide, and that’s what helps leaven the dough. The nice thing about that process is that the starch is what’s really difficult to digest.”

The slower, more scientific process—as opposed to the supermarket loaves that are made in about an hour—yields a loaf that’s better for you and exponentially more delicious and complex.

“I think that’s why a lot of people have this reaction to bread where they say it makes them feel really heavy, or they’re kind of lethargic afterward,” he says. “Our bodies aren’t actually very good at breaking down raw starches, but, with the longer fermentation process, you’re letting the bacteria and the yeast do that work for you—so by the time you eat it it’s much easier to digest. I think that’s a big reason why a lot of people who are gluten-free or try not to eat a lot of bread, don’t have as many issues with the longer fermentation process bread.”

The combination of commercial yeast and abbreviated process makes store-bought bread one of the worst things you can eat. While the taste is indeed subjective, it’s a scientific fact that the starches found in commercial yeasts—and especially the amount that remains after a shorter fermentation process—cannot naturally be digested by our bodies.

“There’s a lot to be said about how the reaction people complain about with gluten intolerance is really just an issue—not with the gluten or the proteins—with the starch and the carbs that are unprocessed. Everyone would agree that unprocessed carbohydrates are bad, and that’s what you’re having when you’re eating really rapidly produced bread.”

“A lot of bakeries do that overnight shift,” Blachman-Gentile explains. “The bread’s coming out of the oven at 2AM or 3AM, and by the time you buy it for your dinner, you’re almost having bread that was baked the day before.”

Blachman-Gentile’s bread is available daily from 1PM to 9PM in the Standard Cafe, but the inventory isn’t reserved for hotel guests. The day’s loaves typically come out of the oven right around noon, so even at 5PM, the bread is still incredibly fresh.

Images courtesy of The Standard